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Putting Together Good Letters of Recommendation

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 6/30/2011

Applying to graduate school? Here are some graduate school admission tips for how to find and acquire the right kind of letters of recommendation to help you get into graduate school.

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    Graduate School Application

    Letters of recommendation are almost roundly required when applying to graduate school, no matter what the program is. There is a standard of two to three, sometimes four, letters of recommendation that are accepted and are one of the standards that you are going to need to meet in the application requirements. These graduate school letters of recommendation will give the admissions committee a look at who they are working with and why they may want you, so they have to be clear and positive. Here are some graduate school application tips for getting together the right kinds of letters of recommendation that you will need to get into the graduate program of your choice.

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    Contact Ahead of Time

    When you are putting together your graduate school applications, you are going to have a lot of elements to put together, so you will likely start working on them months before their due date. This also needs to be true for acquiring your letters of recommendation, even though you technically do not put any work in on them specifically. What this means is that you need to contact the people you want to write your letters of recommendation far in advance so you have a chance to find someone else if one of them says no and so they have time to write them. Give them a couple months before the first graduate school applications are due so that they will be able to put in the right time. You are also going to want to contact an alternate that you may not send and have them write a letter of recommendation anyway. You do not need to tell them necessarily that you are not going to send it in for sure, but you will need it in case one of your letters of recommendation authors does not meet his or her commitment.

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    Sending Them In

    Often times, a graduate school application will specify that the authors of the letter of recommendation should send in the letter themselves, but this is usually not the case. Instead, you can get all of the letters of recommendation from their authors and send them as a package with the rest of your application materials. This will allow you to stay a little more organized and for the graduate admissions department to know where all your elements are.

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    Selecting Authors

    You are going to want to select carefully the authors of your letters of recommendation, otherwise the letters themselves will be both impersonal and will not reflect the kind of credentials that will impress the graduate admissions department. What you will want is a nice mix of academic and professional authors that have enough experience with you that they can reference your experience and work specifically and will enthusiastically recommend you. You may want to choose a professor or two that you have worked with, someone you may have worked for or interned for, and possibly another artist or author that knows you through different channels. Make sure that they are notable enough so that their recommendation will mean something, but unless they will list you as a stellar choice for graduate school admission it is not going to matter.

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    Letter Format

    When formatting their letters of recommendation, the authors are usually going to follow a standard template. You should make sure that they actually create several copies of the same letter of recommendation except they must change the parties it is addressed to, that way each school is listed specifically in the letter of recommendation. Make sure that each graduate school letter of recommendation is printed on official stationary, with the appropriate letterhead, and a matching envelope. You will also want to make sure that the letters of recommendation are sealed so that it looks as though they could not have been tampered with.